Hilo Students Spend Month At Sea Researching Coral Health In Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
UH student interns on a boat
Three interns from the University of Hawaiʻi—(l-r) Colton Johnson (UH Mānoa), and Keelee Martin and Rosie Lee (UH Hilo)—on the NOAA research vessel Hiʻialakai. Courtesy photo NOAA.

A student and a recent graduate from the marine science program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo returned from a month-long sea voyage to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to do research on coral and fish populations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Hiʻialakai returned to Honolulu on September 30 after a 25-day mission to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Rosie Lee and Keelee Martin were interns as part of a NOAA research team completing the third leg of a research mission in support of the Hawaiian Atolls Reef Assessment and Monitoring Project. The NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program team and partners conducted reef monitoring and damage mitigation work. The data is used to assess the impacts of climate change on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and gauge potential threats to the main Hawaiian Islands.

Rosie Lee

Rapid Ecological Assessment fish team after diving at French Frigate Shoals. From left, Colton Johnson, Scotty Jones, Jake Asher, Rosie Lee and Jason Leonard. Courtesy photo NOAA.

Lee was trained to be a part of the Rapid Ecological Assessment fish team where she helped conduct fish surveys throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. During a survey, the team identifies, counts, and sizes all the fish in a transect along specific time intervals. They also collect benthic (sea floor) data and photographs of the area to provide a habitat description for the fish they are counting.

“Being at sea for a month doesn’t come without challenges. Everyday you’re underwater, you make new observations, notice species interactions you’ve never noticed and are becoming a better scientist throughout the process,” says Lee.

Keelee Martin

UH Hilo undergraduate Keelee Martin conducts benthic surveys during her internship aboard a NOAA ship in the protected French Frigate Shoals. Photo by Stephen Matadobra/NOAA.

During the mission, UH Hilo alumna Martin was an intern on the Benthic Team, the group that looks at the substrate, which most of the time means coral. The benthic team identifies and measures coral species, notes the morphology, assesses live tissue from dead tissue and looks at the overall health of the live tissue. They also photograph the substrate they are examining.

“This experience is truly unique,” says Martin. “I heard about it for the first time three years ago when I first attended QUEST (Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques program). The fact that this internship exists blows my mind, to actually be one of these interns—still processing that one. I feel humbled and very gracious to have been given the opportunity. It’s not every day that I see something and wonder if any other human eyes have seen what I am seeing. I thought that more than once up there.”

UH Mānoa student Colton Johnson was the third intern from the UH, also on the trip through the Marine Option Program.

For more on Lee and Martin read the full article at UH Hilo Stories.

From UH Hilo Stories

—By Susan Enright